The final programme in Jamie Oliver’s recent Food Fight Club series for C4 was on the theme of beer and featured a competition between the British and the Belgians. I was the UK judge, one of a panel of three, the others being Marc Stroobandt (Belgium) and Darin Oman (Independent). Marc is a Master Beer Sommelier and Darin is a home brewer and beer enthusiast who was recommended to the TV production company by beer author Tim Webb. Below are my thoughts on the programme – which was first broadcast on Friday 28th Dec. A review of the beer Jamie & Jimmy brewed for it is also below.
I like Jamie Oliver. I didn’t used to. We used to refer to him rudely in the bookshop I worked in many years ago when he was still The Naked Chef. Then I saw his School Dinners series and I changed my mind. So there. I think it is great that he’s managed to get beer on to prime time TV and, no, I’m not just saying that because I was asked to be on the programme.
Here’s the thing about telly. It takes a lot of time and effort to make a tiny little bit of TV. You have to film much more than you’ll ever be able to use and then you have to edit it down to fit a programme slot. Which mostly means that if you’re restricted to a single programme it can only ever be an overview, an introduction to give viewers an idea of the thing rather than being a comprehensive guide. Given all this Food Fight Club did a very good job.
Could it have done better? Well… the British could have won the competition and that’s mostly what the great and the good have been debating on Twitter, and perhaps what you have been talking about down the pub or at home.
Contrary to how it seemed on the programme, we did judge the beers blind. Each ‘flight’ was brought out from behind us in unbranded glassware so we did not know which beers were in front of us. However, there were bottles of all the beers within sight so it was not the kind of strict blind tasting you’d have when judging a more formal competition. I also ran into the British brewers on the Eurostar and was about to sit with Sara Barton of Brewster’s because I recognised her, but was swiftly ushered to the opposite end of the carriage by one of the production team and told me not to speak to her or any of the other brewers prior to the competition – so the programme-makers were trying their best to make it a serious and fair battle.
But once we’d judged the beers and the Brits lost out to the Belgians, I started to wonder about how and why the British ones had been selected. If I’d been asked to select them, rather than judge them, there would have been more of Britain’s brewing heritage on the table – but I don’t mean that as a criticism of the beers or brewers that were there. It’s just that if you are going to go up against breweries that have been around since the 17th Century, and are famous the world over, then surely you’ve got to bring a few of your oldest breweries along too?
Then there’s the question of how the British beers were stored and looked after on their way to Brussels and before they reached the table behind which sat Marc, Darin and I. I refer the honourable member to the paragraph they read some moments ago. A TV programme was being made. The producers’ main concern is to make sure they film what they need to make their programme and that what they film gives them the necessary to make something people will want to watch and will be informed and entertained by. They spent a couple of days solid on filming just the competition aspect of the show, including a lot of to-ing and froing, and I can’t imagine that allowed much opportunity to properly look after the beer and make sure it had time to settle before it was judged. So, I think it came down to either putting the effort in to making a good programme or winning the beer competition and, assuming you’ve seen the programme, you know which of those won.
At the end of the day (it’s night) it gave our beloved beer – and some of our favourite breweries some much needed TV exposure so I’m not going to complain. You can though – feel free to comment below.
Review of Lady Marmalade – Jamie & Jimmy’s beer made in collaboration with Camden Town Brewery
No ABV stated on the bottle, but I’d guess (or maybe I was even told) it was around 4.7%.
The beer was a lovely dark, brassy gold with a small, loose bubbly white head. Its aroma was no great shakes, a bit cardboardy with a vague suggestion of tinned peaches, but not strong or unpleasant enough to be off putting. First taste was refreshing and citrussy with subtle but noticeable zesty orange and mandarin flavours and a tangy, mildly astringent finish that I felt on the sides of my tongue. The beer was reminiscent of its name and also benefitted from a balanced malty and slightly sweet aftertaste. Clean tasting and drinkable, I wouldn’t say it was a world-stopping beer but a good, characterful brew with a memorable flavour that made me feel sad I couldn’t have another.
If you are an ‘experienced’ craft beer drinker or a serious hophead then I doubt Lady Marmalade will set your world on fire, but I think you’d still be able to enjoy it. Were Camden Town Brewery and Jamie Oliver so inclined I think it could be marketed as a sort of ‘entry level’ craft beer and if it had J.O. branding it might just be the brew that puts beer on the map for a much wider audience.
If you missed the programme, you can still watch it online (for approx one month after first broadcast) here: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/jamie-jimmys-food-fight-club/episode-guide/series-1/episode-4
The programme is also due to be repeated on 4Seven at 9pm on the 2nd Jan